Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve most likely heard of probiotics; you probably even have a jar sitting in your fridge for the rare occasion that you remember to take some. Probiotic, translated from scientific terms, literally means “for life”, and it’s a substance used to help proliferate friendly bacteria in order to create a balanced eco system in the gut. It’s a booming business, with a market value forecast to exceed 50 billion US dollars by 2020.
How is this related to your face? Well, sometimes we forget that our skin is our largest organ, and like all other organs benefits from a diet rich in nutrients and a healthy digestive tract — which sounds simpler than it is. Even for the health-conscious among us, sugar, antibiotics, stress, and nutrient-depleted processed foods are hard to avoid permanently; they are the realities of modern life, and they wreak havoc on the intricate environment of our digestive organs. They create chronic inflammation, which leads to damaged cells and premature aging of the skin, earning it the memorable moniker “inflammaging”.
The good news is that because aging is cellular, and not chronological, you can affect the state of your cells and decrease inflammation in your body at any age. And the fastest route to healthy cells and a happy gut is something that’s been right under our noses all along: fermented foods. We probably should have eaten that sauerkraut Grandma always tried to force on us!
Fermented foods have been receiving a lot of attention lately, but they have been around for hundreds of years, a staple in many ancient cultures around the world. And for good reasons: lacto-fermentation drastically increases the nutritional value of a food and is loaded with beneficial bacteria, nutrients, and enzymes. Probiotics have been clinically proven to decrease inflammation in our cells and research continues to prove the enormous influence gut health has on our overall health.
So, why not pop a couple of white pills from the fridge and be done with it, you ask? Like any nutritional supplement, probiotics are exactly that — a way to supplement the diet and give you an extra boost when you really need it. But it doesn’t boast all the other benefits that fermented foods offer. They possess a larger variety of friendly bacteria strains that are active and live (store-bought probiotics often only contain one or two strains); fermented foods and drinks are acid-resistant, meaning that your stomach acid won’t break them down until they reach your gut, unlike what can happen with probiotics in pill form; they’re packed with minerals, B-vitamins, and enzymes, making them a veritable bomb of nutrients to your system; they contain “food” for the microflora already active in your gut, creating a positive cycle; and lastly, they are simply more cost-effective.
Although sauerkraut and kimchi are the most widely available fermented foods, in most urban centres you can just as easily find protein powder, kombucha, or kefir, and a trip to the farmer’s market will likely yield a few surprise goodies. Just remember to make sure that the product doesn’t contain any added sugar (which contributes to inflammation) and is unpasteurized and fermented (as opposed to pickled with vinegar), which keeps all the good bacteria intact! Eating as wide a variety of fermented foods as possible is beneficial, since each food offers its own unique nutrient profile. Luckily, you don’t have to limit yourself to what’s commercially available, since you can ferment virtually any vegetable and do so cheaply and easily.
A few spoonfuls a day and you’re on your way to a glowing face. And if you’re so inclined, you can go a step further and literally put it on your face which—we predict—is only going to become a growing trend.